Anders E. Schneider, Phi Beta Kappa Speaker

Shift Happens

Tomorrow will be a day different from other tomorrows. We will no longer be Williams undergraduates, but rather alumni. Instead of waking up to go to class, we might be standing at the front of a class. Instead of looking out our windows at the Berkshires, we might look out at a foreign continent. Instead of writing a policy memo for a grade, we might be making policy.

Tomorrow, we will run into discomfort, doubt, and people that don’t share our vision. We ourselves will make mistakes. A lot of them. Probably more than we can imagine from where we sit today.

This is one of those times in life when a lot is shifting around us. We’re being kicked out of this comfy Purple Bubble and thrust into the real world. Shift happens. And it’s scary. There won’t be JA’s, office hours, or a friendly Dean’s office. But now that we’re in this deep shift, it’s important for us to play to our strengths.

So what is it that we are actually good at? At first glance, one might be tempted to say that we are good at hard work – that we know how to put our noses to the grindstone. I don’t buy it. I’ve found far too many of us asleep in study spaces (myself in particular) and noted that, during Reading Period, less reading happens than at any other point in the semester.

And yet, we have accomplished a lot in our tenure here. We’ve written theses, we’ve studied all over the world, we’ve captained nationally ranked sports teams (and here, by we I mean you). I believe that the secret to those successes lies not in our individual work ethics but in the strength of our support networks.

These networks include our high school teachers, who set us on these incredible paths (I’m looking at you, Doc V). They include the family sitting with us here today, and the family that will always be in our hearts. I see that support in the professors who serve as mentors as well as educators. In entries sharing highs and lows for the week at snacks. I see it in the thunder that Williams fans bring to Chandler at basketball games. In the camaraderie at the MSRC and Writing Workshop. And in the way this community came together when it was struck by hate this past November.

And so let’s circle back to the question of what we’re good at: we’re good at being there for one another. Even when there isn’t time to do all of our own work, we somehow find time when a friend asks for help. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone justify late-night procrastination with the time-honored refrain “Ten years from now, I won’t remember this stupid paper, but I will remember sitting here, talking to you”.

On the one hand, this paints a paltry and disturbing picture of our graduating class: we’ve only made it to this ceremony because of the people around us, who are all going to disperse in a matter of hours. On the other hand, this informs a plan of attack for next year and beyond. As much as possible, surround yourself with those people who will challenge you like your professors, encourage you like your teammates, and love you as warmly and deeply as the friends you met at Williams. And even more importantly, be that caring, supportive person. Invest in the communities that you find out there and contribute to the success of others.

So shift happens, and this graduation is certainly a momentous shift for us all. Our time at Williams has given us an enormous capacity to act in support of others. As we begin the next chapters of our lives, let’s realize that potential.

Thank you.